VerseFest to shine light on Ottawa's thriving poetry scene

The organizer of one of Canada's largest poetry festivals and Ottawa's poet laureate tell CBC Radio's In Town and Out what to expect next week during VerseFest.

'Ottawa has a rich history of writers, reciters, patrons and lovers [of poetry]'

VerseFest is showcasing 70 local, national and international poets, including Jamaal Jackson Rogers, Ottawa's poet laureate. He spoke to CBC Radio's In Town and Out about the city's thriving poetry scene. (VerseFest)

Ottawa may be best known for its cold weather, bureaucratic institutions and potholes — but it's also a thriving environment for writers and lovers of poetry, according to the organizer of one of Canada's largest poetry festivals.

David Stymeist, president of VerseFest, told CBC Radio's In Town and Outon Saturday that the city is home to some of Canada's most acclaimed poets and dozens of poetry groups.. 

"We are bringing together poets, performers and audiences to share our common love for language and poetry and expression," Stymeist said.

Poetry events are the most consistently attended events for the last 20 years.- Jamaal Jackson Rogers, Ottawa's poet laureate 

VerseFest, which gets underway next week, will showcase 70 local, national and international poets, including Ottawa poet laureate Jamaal Jackson Rogers.

For years, Rogers developed poetry shows and collectives across the city that enabled young poets to perform and share their art. 

"Ottawa has a rich history of writers, reciters, patrons and lovers [of poetry]," he told In Town and Out host Teri Loretto.

"Poetry events are the most consistently attended events for the last 20 years [and] the most consistently supported out of all the other artistic communities in the city."

Poets to watch 

Some poets to watch out for at the festival are Edmonton-based poet Lady Vanessa Cardona and Miles Hodges from New York, Rogers said. 

"[She's] representing her home country of Colombia," he said. "[Cardona] brings those elements to her performance, and the stories she tells — the true real life experiences she waves into her poems — [are] incredible." 

The festival will also feature American poet Alice Notley, Canada's parliamentary poet laureate Georgette LeBlanc and Innu poet-performer Natasha Kanapé Fontaine.

"It's wonderful to be able to bring all these voices from across Canada," Stymeist said. "There are so many different regional experiences, and we in Ottawa need to hear that variety of voices." 

Vanessa Cardona is an Edmonton-based poet and one of the highly anticipated artists taking part in VerseFest, one of Canada's largest poetry festivals. (VerseFest)
Miles Hodges from New York is another of the acclaimed poets taking part in VerseFest, which gets underway Tuesday. (VerseFest)

Poetry flourishing online

On March 24, Rogers will be taking part in a panel at the festival to speak about the craft and social good of poetry.

In today's digital world, poetry has an even better chance of flourishing, Rogers said. Platforms like Twitter and Instagram force people to write within certain frameworks and limits, he added — and also connect them with an audience. 

"The thread that joins poets is our desire to tell a story," Rogers said.

"I believe poets are storytellers, and the way we choose to tell the stories is to captivate our audience in the most precise and terse way possible."

The six-day festival will began Tuesday and run until March 25.